Lean In hit the shelves exactly one week before my 34th birthday. I received three copies as gifts that year. I had just accepted a promotion at work, which required me to transition from part time to a full time schedule, and my daughter was 2 years old.
I wish I had devoured at least one copy of that book at the time, but in reality, it sat unopened on my nightstand for two full years. I didn’t read it because I was fried at the end of each day. By the time I crawled into bed at the late hour of 9:30 each night, it took all the energy I had to mindlessly scroll through my Facebook and Instagram feeds before passing out. But I “liked” the Lean In Facebook page, so at least I was getting some good information from Sheryl showing up in my feed. Plus I read the book reviews and watched her press interviews, and so I felt I had the general gist, and I honestly did intend to read it…one of these days.
I’m happy to report that at long last I finished reading Lean In! And when I said I finished reading it, I really mean I finished listening to the audio book. So now I have two recommendations for you: 1) download audible.com because it will change your life and allow you to be the well-read woman that you’ve always envisioned yourself to be and 2) listen to (or read, I suppose), Lean In. Whether you work in an office or in your home; whether you’re male or female; this book is required reading for anyone who is alive and living in the world right now. This book brings together great data and research, rich personal experiences, and compelling advice for solving the complex problem of why there are too few women leaders today.
I am not ashamed to admit that I am now the tiniest bit obsessed with Sheryl Sandberg. Every chapter, every nugget in her book resonated with me. This week I have been thinking a lot about women who play it too safe at work and turn down opportunities, all for the intended purpose of staying in the workplace over the long term. In a lot of ways, that’s me. Even this past week at my current job, I was presented with an opportunity, and it sounded interesting and challenging. But as a working mom of a toddler, I worried that it might be too challenging. A new role with a new client: would it require long hours? Would I still be able to drop off or pick up my daughter at her school every day? Could I make it home for dinner and bedtime each (or most) nights? In my head I dreamed up scenarios about my first day at this new client site: “glad to have you on board, Mary Kay! I hope you don’t have plans tonight, because we have a lot of work to do…” Cue me freaking out.
Thinking back on the past few years, I’ve made several “safe” career choices as a mom that I never would have made pre-baby. When I was single, I worked as much as I could. A request from senior leadership to stay late or help on a weekend was a compliment. But then even before I became pregnant, I started to see things differently. I concluded that my current work life balance wasn’t sustainable as a future mom. I didn’t wait and see how it might work out; instead, I quit. I accepted a job at a smaller company where I perceived there to be a better balance (and there was). And a funny thing happened: I got pregnant after quitting my old job, and I found out a few days before starting my new job.
It’s hard to say whether that career move to a smaller company was a mistake or not: I generally don’t like the idea of regrets. The benefits I anticipated were real: the hours were better, and I left my laptop in my office most nights and weekends. I wasn’t traveling to client sites as much, which was helpful during pregnancy. But the work was less interesting, and less challenging. I wasn’t flexing all of my professional muscles. But wasn’t this what I wanted? Wasn’t this a more sustainable pace for the working mom I was about to become?
This is the question I am still grappling with in my current (and much better) job, consciously or not. Is what I am doing now sustainable? I want to continue to advance my career, but how can I possibly take on more and be an active parent in my daughter’s life? If I take a new opportunity with a more aggressive pace, will I be able to hang on, and keep my head above water? Or will I fail? And by the way…I really don’t want to fail.
Back to the new challenging opportunity I was offered last week. I told my boss I had to think about it, because I did. I wanted to talk to my husband about it, and I did. We talked about what information we knew about this opportunity and what information we didn’t know (i.e., all the unknowns that was causing me to create nightmare “what if” scenarios). We talked about what reasonable, “heads up” parameters I could communicate to this new client, like how I could take calls starting at 8:30 AM but might not be able to be physically in the office until 9:30 AM (I seriously don’t know how long it would take to drive up the peninsula to this new location during rush hour). We talked about worst case scenarios, and how I could handle those if they became a reality – however unlikely.
And so last week I decided to lean in a little bit more. I told my boss that I’m interested in the position, so now we’re moving forward with next steps. Will I regret it? I guess I’ll find out soon.
I’d love to hear from you! What career choices have you made post baby that you might not have made in your pre-baby days?
Are there dads out there having similar experiences too? I’d love to learn about what is working (or not working!) for you!
Mary Kay McGarr is a Consultant at Slalom Consulting in Silicon Valley. She lives in San Jose with her husband, Mike, and their 3 year old daughter. Mary Kay is a recent transplant from DC, and enjoys exploring new restaurants and things to do in the Bay Area. She is passionate about helping new moms transition back into the workforce after maternity leave, and continuing with rewarding careers post baby.